You don’t often hear a tech exec responsible for a product say that he hates anything about it, but Intuit’s Aaron Patzer is a special case–his dislike of Quicken spurred him to found the excellent online finance site Mint. When Intuit bought Mint last year, Patzer ended being responsible for both Mint and Quicken. The new version of Quicken, Quicken 2011, is the first one to reflect his influence, and it certainly shows the influence of the more modern Mint.
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Finance site KaChing has been around for awhile, letting investors share virtual stock portfolios. Today, however, it’s launching a new version that’s meant to make a much bigger impact: It’s making the virtual portfolios real, letting members “invest like a genius” by putting their money in the same companies as amateur and professional investors who KaChing rates as having outstanding investment records, philosophies, and practices–using a formula it refers to as “Investing IQ.”
The idea is to provide an alternative to mutual funds that’s more transparent: You see the moves “geniuses” make in real time, and can dig as deeply as you like into information on their holdings to verify that they’re sticking to their investment strategy and aren’t doing well by dumb luck rather than by being smart. And every time a “genius” you’ve chosen makes a change to his or her portfolio, your portfolio automatically changes to match it.
If you choose to invest like a particular genius, KaChing charges a management fee that’s low by mutual-fund standards–between .98 percent and 2 percent–and turns 75 percent of it over to the “genius.” There’s a $3,000 minimum to participate.
KaChing founder Dan Carroll told me that KaChing is aimed at investors who’d otherwise sock money away in mutual funds, but who want more information on how their money is working for them than the mutual fund industry provides. He says that ratings systems such as Morningstar focus too much on past performance even though it’s not a good predictor of future results, and that the information provided by mutual fund managers in materials such as quarterly statements isn’t sufficiently detailed or timely.
Rightly or wrongly, many investors may have more confidence in venerable institutions such as Fidelity and Vanguard than in a little-known startup such as KaChing. I asked Carroll what would happen if KaChing ran into trouble: He told me that KaChing brokerage accounts are really with Interactive Brokers, a large outfit that’s not very well known because it mostly deals with institutions, not individuals. If anything were to happen to KaChing, members’ accounts would still be safe with the brokerage, he said.
KaChing’s an interesting idea (although not a wholly unique one–it’s a bit like social-investing Cake Financial, for instance). I’m intrigued enough to be flirting with the idea of signing up, even though I’m one of those garden-variety mutual fund investors who has my money with big-name funds and who likes to leave it there and forget about it. One reason I’m intrigued: One of KaChing’s investors and users is Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Netscape, OpsWare, and Ning. He’s a genius who needs no quote marks around the term, and while his involvement doesn’t make KaChing a sure thing, the fact he’s impressed is…impressive.
I just spoke with Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint and general-manager-to-be of Intuit’s personal finance group, about Intuit’s planned $170 million acquisition of Mint and what it means for consumers. A few notes from our discussion on what’s in the works, assuming the merger goes off as planned:
Quicken Online will become a reskinned Mint. It doesn’t make sense for one company to have two Web-based personal-finance services that, while far from identical, are trying to do similar things. The battle between Quicken Online and Mint will end, and it’s Mint that will be the victor: The Quicken Online service will be pretty much the same service as today’s Mint except with Quicken’s red-and-white color scheme, Patzer told me. Current Quicken Online users should see their transactions move into the Mint-powered version, and Patzer hopes that other items such as categories will also be able to make the transition. Why not just kill Quicken Online? Patzer says the Quicken brand name is so familiar that it makes sense for Mint to adapt its identity as well as to keep its own moniker.
Mint features will migrate into Quicken’s desktop software. One core aspect of Mint from the start (and a major part of its business model) has been the way it analyzes your financial life and attempts to recommend offers that make sense for you, such as credit cards and mortgage refinancing deals with lower interest rates. Patzer says the plan is to bring some of this stuff into Quicken’s traditional software version, too.
Quicken desktop isn’t going anywhere. At the moment, it has more advanced features than either Mint or Quicken Online in some areas, such as investments and tax handling. Patzer says Quicken users tend to be older than Mint’s customers (in their 40s and 50s vs. 20s and 30s) and like the security of keeping their financial details local rather than stored on distant servers. So even as Mint and Quicken Online get more sophisticated, there will be a need for Quicken in software form.
Mint will take advantage of Intuit’s back-end. Intuit has a deep portfolio of technologies and partnerships in the areas of online billpay, banking, and the like. Patzer says this should let Mint become a more transactional service–instead of just seeing that a bill is due for payment, you might be able to pay it right inside of Mint.
Mint and TurboTax will meld. You’ll be able to push all the things Mint knows about your financial status, such as gains and losses, into TurboTax Patzer thinks this could dramatically reduce the drudgery of tax time.
Patzer says he knows that some Mint fans are apprehensive about the acquisition, but that they needn’t worry–especially since the Mint management and engineering team will “take a leadership role” in the combined companies.
In other news, he told me that Mint has submitted a new version of its iPhone application to Apple’s App Store. Among the changes: a PIN for added security, push notifications for stuff like bills that are due, and a slicker look.
The TechCrunch story from last night was solid: The first major news at the TechCrunch50 conference this morning was that Intuit is indeed buying personal-finance service Mint for $170 million. Mint founder Aaron Patzer appeared onstage to confirm the acquisition. He also said that the Mint team will be responsible not only for Mint but for the existing Quicken Online service…and the Quicken desktop software. Which might help assuage the fears of Mint fans who are worrying that Intuit will ruin it.
It’ll be fascinating to see how Quicken, Quicken Online, and Mint relate to each other once all this is sorted out…
More TechCrunch50 news to come today and tomorrow–some here, and more at my Twitter feed.
Intuit, the company whose Quicken has been synonymous with personal-finance management for years, has brought the app to the iPhone. It’s not the first version of Quicken for handheld devices–I used an earlier one on my PalmPilot years ago–but it’s the first modern one. And as its name, Quicken Online Mobile, suggests, it connects directly to the Net to grab your financial details rather than making you sync with the desktop app.
Actually, it doesn’t work with the traditional application version of Quicken at all–it’s a companion to Quicken Online, the Web-based version which relaunched in a free version last fall. If you’re like me, you tend to associate use of Quicken with personal-finance nerds who have their acts together, track everything carefully, and are on the road to a happy and prosperous retirement. Quicken Online isn’t aimed at those people: It’s got relatively few features, is heavy on automation (like Mint, it downloads transactions from your banks and credit-card companies automatically), and most of what it does is focused on making sure that you’ve got enough money to get to your next paycheck. Quicken Online Mobile brings that approach to the iPhone and iPod Touch, and does a nice job at it. You can see what you’ve spent and what you’ve made, and the home screen tallies everything up and tells you whether you’re in any risk of running out of dough.